Here comes another revenge thriller following in the footsteps of Fight Club, John Wick and the multitude of Liam Neeson revenge movies. Actor Bob Odenkirk plays a a meek, middle-aged dad who doesn’t fight back when robbers invade his home. Everyone thinks he is a total wuss: the police, the neighbors, even his own family. But then he does fight back, rampaging through a succession of gleefully violent fight scenes until there’s barely an anonymous Russian mobster left walking. His character states, “There’s a long-dormant piece of me that’s now awake.” He is living his best life. His family respects him. His wife finds him attractive again. He’s found his real man masculinity.
The implication is often that behind the characters’ meek, civilized exteriors, these men are mighty warriors who have been tamed into lives of careerist conformity and domestic subservience. And reverting back to base instinct feels really good. The question is always whether these movies serve as a warning against such impulsive, often fascistic forms of violence, or whether they inspire them. Looking at the current climate of “toxic masculinity” – misogynistic online abuse, sexual misconduct and violence one would hardly surmise that what the world needs now is more old-school manliness.
One rationale for these films is that the artfully orchestrated ultra violence is somehow cathartic. thereby providing a useful function. One can also argue that exposure to ultra violence and the status that the perpetrators of it receive might actually provoke violent behavior. Then again, it’s a pretty reductive view of masculinity that says you’re either a castrated loser or a rampaging warrior, a sheep or a wolf. Rather than this binary distinction, a better way of framing the issue is derived from the warrior archetype of masculinity. The warrior, that part of our masculinity linked to taking action, can be expressed either in the light or the shadow. The Warrior – takes action, confronts, commands, motivates.
Light ( I do) – change agent, protector, disciplined, assertive, leader
Shadow (I take) – seeks violence and uses aggression as primary strategy, sadistic, bully
The takeaway is that we can harness our warrior in the light and feel validated as a man without resorting to ultra violence to achieve our goals. If we go back to the revenge thriller type movies they would not achieve much success at the box office if the heroes used their warrior energy in the light and sought justice by working with law enforcement to rescue love ones and to arrest the bad guys. The revenge thrillers will not go away. However, more emphasis on fictional characters that exhibit their manliness – especially their warrior – in the light would provide better role models for young men to aspire to.